The Best Recipe for Thanksgiving: Gratitude Bags -- Prep Time 5 Minutes

11/14/2013 03:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Kathleen Buckstaff Author, The Tiffany Box and Mother Advice To Take With You To College

Leaves are falling off trees, which means it's time for me to take out my recipes. When it's my turn to cook Thanksgiving dinner, I choose recipes from both sides of our families. But a few years ago, I added a new item.

I wanted to create a ritual that allowed us to take time as a group to reflect on what we loved about each person. Thanksgiving is the holiday that guarantees I'll be full from stuffing, turkey, potatoes and pies. But I wanted to add something that would fill each of our hearts.

About a week before Thanksgiving, I had a Martha Stewart moment. I dusted off my sewing machine, took scraps of fabric and within a few hours made "gratitude bags" for each guest who would be at our Thanksgiving dinner. I cut up notecards into strips and made sure I had enough pens.

I'll share a picture of the bags with you because I like how they turned out.


On Thanksgiving, after we finished dinner, we moved to the family room. Each person chose a gratitude bag, took a pen and as many strips of paper as there were people present. The assignment was that we would write a "compliment" or a "thankful" note to each person.

We discussed guidelines as a group and agreed that we would sign our names on each note, and at the end, we would each read a few out loud that we had received. Some of the children asked for examples to help them get started. Here are a few that adults offered to trigger ideas:

I like _____ about you.

I admire _____ about you.

I think you have nice _____.

I love it when you _____.

I like your _____.

I had masking tape out, and we each wrote our name on a piece of tape and stuck it on our bag. We put the gratitude bags on the coffee table. And then we all started. It was mostly quiet. Sometimes a young one would ask how to spell a word, or someone would laugh, but mostly everyone sat and wrote. When someone finished writing a note, he or she slipped the note in the recipient's bag and then started on the next note. What I noticed when I looked around the room was that everyone had a slight smile on his or her face. It felt good to call for a peaceful moment and write compliments or thankful notes to each person there.

When everyone had finished, we went around the room and people read out loud some of the compliments or gratitude statements that they had received. We laughed, we smiled, and people looked each other in the eyes, owning and receiving feelings of love and admiration.

"I really like your purple shoes."

"I think you throw a football really well."

"I'm thankful that you pick me up from school every day."

It was nourishing to hear what others admired and cherished.

The year after we started this ritual, I had many requests leading up to Thanksgiving -- not for my lemon cheesecake, but for the gratitude bags. When we sat down to write our notes to each other for the second time, a few shared where they had stored their gratitude bag during the previous year.

"It's in my dresser," one dad said. "I see it every morning."

"It's on my bedside table," another mom said. "It makes me smile."

"It's in my backpack at the bottom," one middle school child said. "It reminds me that I'm loved."

If you don't sew or don't want to sew, use zip-lock bags, pens and paper -- prep time five minutes. The heart won't know the difference, and gratitude bags go well with any Thanksgiving meal.

Happy Thanksgiving!


This column originally appeared in Kathleen's blog

To read other columns written by Kathleen Buckstaff please visit

Kathleen's memoir The Tiffany Box is must read for any caregiver. Candid, funny, and recognizably true. A gathering of e-mails, letters, diary entries and newspaper columns chronicles a generation "in-between." The Tiffany Box captures the day to day insanity and love of nurturing its young while nursing its aged, and coming to terms with the bitter realities that temper life's sweet rewards.

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